What did you Learn at School Today?

Education is important; nobody would disagree with that.  It is a sensible use of our taxes.

But if we are spending all that money on education, it is also sensible to make sure it isn’t going to waste, it is sensible to make sure we are getting the best from your school system and teachers.

How do you check the school system?

Conventional wisdom will tell you it is simple.  Set up a school inspectorate.  Hire a bunch of ex teachers, give them inspectors badges and send them around the schools to see how effective the teaching is.

If the teaching is good, write a glowing report.  If the teaching is bad sack the teachers and get some new ones.  After all, teaching is all about the staff you employ.

Would you welcome in the inspectors?

Imagine how it feels to be a teacher in an inner city school, with little funding and a deprived catchment area.  How does it feel when the inspectors come knocking on your door?

Would you welcome their opinion ~ or ~ fear for your job?

So how do you beat the inspector?

In the 1970’s a friend of mine (true story, honestly) attended one of those inner city schools in the heart of Glasgow when the inspector came calling.

The inspector wanted to check that the children were engaged and that they were learning.  To check that the teacher was teaching.

But the teacher had other plans.  The teacher wanted to keep her job.  The teacher had a cunning ruse.

The teacher briefed my friend and her classmates before the inspector came into the room.

  • If you know the answer to my questions raise your right hand.
  • If you don’t know the answer to my questions raise your left hand

Easy really, all the inspector saw was a roomful of bright children who knew the answers to all the questions.  He wrote that glowing report.

The worst bit

The worst bit wasn’t that the inspector was duped.

The worst bit wasn’t that the inspections didn’t work.

The worst bit wasn’t even the woeful misuse of my taxes.

The worst bit was that the children grew up believing that the really important thing wasn’t education, and knowing the answers.  They grew up thinking that the really important thing was learning how to beat the inspector.

Mind you that was the 1970’s.  I am sure it has all changed now.

Whenever there is fear, you will get wrong figures ~ W. Edwards Deming

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1970's school children

Image by Harwich and Dovercourt

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  1. Hello James

    Fantastic example. Were fear is present, then whatever gets measured gets gamed. You can either engage your people in pursuit of a worthy mission or you can call forth their intelligence in gaming the system. That is just the way it is.